See more of the story

Shortly after the Timberwolves acquired Rudy Gobert last summer, coach Chris Finch sounded the alarm on what the arrival meant for the Wolves defense.

"We can't expect him to come in and be the entire savior of our defense," Finch said,

It seemed at times this was what fans and even some teammates thought Gobert should be — a one-man, top 10 defense unto himself that can fix everything around him, even when teammates make mistakes.

That's not how to enhance what Gobert does well. He can activate his elite rim protection when his teammates in front of him are on top of their game and aren't just relying on him to be a failsafe when they mess up, sometimes multiple times a possession. Gobert operates best when he feels like he doesn't have to be two places at once, and he can patrol the paint better than almost any big man in the league, as he has in winning three Defensive Player of the Year awards.

It took awhile, but it seems the Wolves are finally understanding the subtle ways in which Gobert affects a game, and how they can help him be the best version of himself on the defensive end of the floor.

That will also be put to the test Wednesday when the Wolves take on the defending champion Golden State Warriors at Target Center.

"Just the little things," guard Anthony Edwards said. "I said on the bench [Saturday], I seen a guy go in and look at Rudy and have a wide-open layup. And Rudy just stabbed at him, and he threw it and Rudy stole it. Like him present in a game just affects a lot of people."

The Wolves closed January 11-5, and a big reason was their improved defense. They went from having the No. 21 defense in terms of efficiency in November to No. 17 in December to fifth in January (112 points allowed per 100 possessions).

Gobert isn't the only contributor to that number, of course. Forward Jaden McDaniels has done a commendable job handling the other team's top scorers, as has Edwards when the team has asked him to shoulder more of a defensive burden.

"It took a little bit to get used to," McDaniels said of playing with Gobert. "I mean, he's been like defensive player [of the year] for like I don't know how many years it was. Kind of just let him do him. He knows what he needs to do defensively and he's smart as well, on defense, so I kind of let him talk me through pick and rolls and stuff. I really just listen for his voice."

Guard Austin Rivers said the team has been communicating better on defense and that Gobert gives perimeter defenders like him and McDaniels more confidence to be aggressive in guarding their man because they have help behind them, though they can't take that help for granted.

"People are off him now. I know he was getting a lot of stuff early in the season," Rivers said. "People now are seeing his impact and how important he is for us. If you can get by the little mistakes, a shot missed here or there, you can really understand what he does for us. He changes our whole team."

In Monday's game, Sacramento went with a small-ball lineup in overtime to defeat the Wolves, and teams in the past few playoffs used similar lineups to try to mess with Gobert's ability to defend the rim. It worked for Sacramento, and the Wolves will have to make similar adjustments if they are going to beat the Warriors, who can be lethal with small lineups.

But overall, the Wolves are morphing into the kind of defensive team they envisioned when they acquired Gobert. Nobody preached patience more than Gobert did at the beginning of the season, that he and the team would eventually find their footing on that end of the floor. His words are proving prophetic.

"Whether it's offensively or defensively, I do a lot of things to impact winning," Gobert said. "But it takes time for guys around me to figure out that. It takes time for me to figure out the guys around me, too, and the coaching staff and everything. It's a part of the adjustment. No great things happen overnight."