In April, the Cleveland Cavaliers signed Dahntay Jones to a one-year minimum contract. For the second straight season, the veteran small forward would appear in a single regular season game before acting as a playoff reserve.

Kobe Bryant blows past Jones during the 2009 Western Conference Finals (Jeb Jacobson/Reuters)

Jones is a famously “chippy” player. He was suspended for a game in 2016 after punching Bismack Biyombo in the groin, and 2017 was much of the same – Jones was fined two-thirds of his prorated, league-minimum salary for an ejection against the Raptors, and didn’t do much else. (LeBron James covered the bill.) Save for a brief hero stretch in Game 6 of the 2016 Finals, Jones has more or less played the role of a hockey enforcer for the Cavs.

But he must be good at it! Thanks to those two short contracts, Jones has technically played 13 NBA seasons. That’s as many as Bill Russell, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Few NBA players have made it that long.

Dahntay Jones is officially

an NBA old-timer

Share of 4,147 NBA/BAA players that played each number of seasons,

1946-47 through 2016-17

25%

15%

20%

Only 8% of players played for at least 13 seasons

10%

5%

0%

1

season

4

6

8

10

12

14

16

18

20

Dahntay Jones is officially an NBA old-timer

Share of 4,147 NBA/BAA players that played each number of seasons, 1946-47 through 2016-17

25%

20%

15%

10%

Only 8% of players played for at least 13 seasons

5%

0%

1

season

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

Don’t start engraving that Hall of Fame plaque quite yet.

Center Greg Kite – who played 12 seasons – gets posterized by Ralph Sampson during the 1986 Finals. (AP)

Over the course of 13 seasons, Jones has averaged just 5.4 points per game, while shooting .439 from the field. He’s accrued 9.9 win shares, a stat from Basketball Reference that attempts to account for all of a player's production and defense on the court. (It’s a counting stat like WAR in baseball, so the more you play, the more shares you gain.) For comparison, Kyle Lowry – an all-star player but not MVP-level – gained 10.1 win shares just last season.

[NBA 2017-18 season predictions: Projecting MVP, rookie of the year and more]

Jones might actually be one of the least productive players to make it so long in the league, putting him in the running for “least distinguished” career. Who is his competition? To find out, we can look at the win shares per season all 4,147 players in NBA history gained (through 2016-17) vs. the number of seasons that they played.

Every player’s per-season

performance

Average win shares (WS) per season for 4,147 NBA/BAA players from 1946-47 through 2016-17, by number of seasons played

W. Chamberlain

 

 

L. James

 

 

15 WS/season

M. Jordan

 

 

PLAYED BETTER

10

5

0

20 worst

long careers

D. Jones

 

 

1

season

4

6

8

10

12

14

16

18

20

PLAYED LONGER

Every NBA player’s per-season performance

Average win shares (WS) per season for 4,147 NBA/BAA players from 1946-47 through 2016-17, by number of seasons played

Wilt Chamberlain

 

 

LeBron James

 

 

George Mikan

 

 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

 

15 WS/season

Michael Jordan

 

 

PLAYED BETTER

10

5

Kevin

Willis

 

0

20 worst

long careers

Dahntay Jones

 

 

1

season

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

PLAYED LONGER

Every NBA player’s per-season performance

Average win shares (WS) per season for 4,147 NBA/BAA players from 1946-47 through 2016-17, by number of seasons played

Alex Groza

 

 

 

 

Banned from the NBA in 1951 for point shaving

 

 

Wilt Chamberlain

 

 

LeBron James

 

 

George Mikan

 

 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

 

15 WS/season

Michael Jordan

 

 

PLAYED BETTER

Kevin

Garnett

 

10

5

0

20 worst

long careers

Dahntay Jones

 

 

PLAYED LONGER

1

season

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

As you can see, the players with longer careers tend to generate more win shares per season. This makes sense – the best players tend to stay in the league the longest.

Center Joe Wolf – who played 11 seasons – tries to defend Michael Jordan during a 1997 game. (Vincent Laforet/AFP)

The 20 players marked in orange have extremely low win share rates given how many seasons they played (with a minimum of three seasons). We’re ranking exactly how far they are below expectations using a value called a z-score. You can read a more detailed explanation of how this works in the footnotes.

[NBA 2017-18 season predictions: Projecting all six divisions and the playoffs]

Dahntay Jones makes the top 20, but he’s far from the “least distinguished” in NBA history. He’s not even the least distinguished active player. Ronnie Price, a point guard who played for the Phoenix Suns in 2016-17, has one less season under his belt, but has accrued just 4.0 win shares to Jones’s 9.9.

The full list, from worst to best by z-score, is below. Nobody would call these great players. They’re marginal reserves – verging on scrubs – but in some respects, they’re the most impressive players in NBA history.

Jeremy Lin drives past Jannero Pargo – who played 11 seasons – during a 2012 game. (Kathy Willens/AP)

Their stats may be ugly, but hundreds of NBA players have put up worse, and most of them were out of the league in a few years. These 20 players were durable and consistently useful in whatever minor but valuable role they filled, be it backup point guard, providing extra height on defense or pulling the occasional dirty play. And despite being some of the least essential players on their squads, they stayed useful and on NBA rosters for years. We should hope for as much in our own careers.

The 20 least distinguished careers in NBA history

Rank Player Career per game
1.

Woody Sauldsberry

-7.9 WS in 7 seasons

10.7 points
1.1 assists
7.8 rebounds
Rookie of the Year in 1958 and 1959 All-star, but was a terrible shooter, especially for a power forward/center. Per game line during his first five seasons: 5 for 15 from the floor, 11 points.
2.

David Wingate

11.7 WS in 15 seasons

5.6 points
1.9 assists
1.9 rebounds
1984 NCAA champion. Played in high school alongside Muggsy Bogues, Reggie Lewis and Reggie Williams.
3.

Greg Foster

5.6 WS in 13 seasons

3.9 points
0.5 assists
2.6 rebounds
Made three NBA Finals. 2001 NBA champion with the Lakers, although he only played for three minutes of one playoff game.
4.

Ronnie Price

4.0 WS in 12 seasons

3.7 points
1.8 assists
1.2 rebounds
Not on a roster for the 2017-18 season, although he is still owed $2.4 million from the Thunder.
5.

Randy Livingston

2.3 WS in 11 seasons

3.8 points
2.0 assists
1.4 rebounds
Played for seven teams in seven years from 2000 to 2006. NBA D-League MVP (2007) and champion (2008).
6.

Doug Overton

2.5 WS in 11 seasons

4.5 points
2.1 assists
1.3 rebounds
Appeared in 82 games for the Bullets in 1994-95, his best season, averaging 7 points per game.
7.

Sean Marks

2.6 WS in 11 seasons

2.8 points
0.2 assists
2.2 rebounds
2005 NBA champion with the Spurs, although he did not appear in the playoffs. Champion again in 2014 as an assistant coach, Current GM of the Brooklyn Nets.
8.

Greg Kite

5.6 WS in 12 seasons

2.5 points
0.5 assists
3.8 rebounds
Won two NBA championships with the Boston Celtics in 1984 and 1986.
9.

Joe Wolf

3.5 WS in 11 seasons

4.2 points
1.0 assists
0.3 rebounds
13th overall pick in 1987. Named the greatest high school player in Wisconsin history.
10.

Darrick Martin

9.6 WS in 13 seasons

6.9 points
2.9 assists
1.1 rebounds
Just 5-foot-11. Played in the NBA, CBA, IBA, Russian league and for the Harlem Globetrotters.
11.

Dahntay Jones

9.9 WS in 13 seasons

5.4 points
0.8 assists
1.7 rebounds
2016 NBA champion with the Cavaliers. Started 71 games for the Nuggets in 2008-09, and averaged 10.2 points per game for the Pacers the next season.
12.

Anthony Carter

10.4 WS in 13 seasons

4.8 points
3.8 assists
2.1 rebounds
Played at University of Hawaii. Traded from the Denver Nuggets to the New York Knicks as a piece in the Carmelo Anthony trade.
13.

Jannero Pargo

4.9 WS in 11 seasons

6.4 points
2.0 assists
1.4 rebounds
Appeared in 162 games for the Hornets from 2006 to 2008, his two most productive seasons.
14.

Chuck Nevitt

0.5 WS in 9 seasons

1.6 points
0.1 assists
1.5 rebounds
NBA champion in 1985 with the Lakers. At 7-foot-5, he's the tallest champion in NBA history. Scored just 251 career points in 826 minutes.
15.

Joe Kleine

19.1 WS in 15 seasons

4.8 points
0.6 assists
4.1 rebounds
Sixth overall pick in 1985, ahead of Chris Mullin, Karl Malone and Joe Dumars. 1998 NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls, but didn't appear in playoffs. Gold medal at the 1984 Olympics.
16.

Nazr Mohammed

34.3 WS in 18 seasons

5.8 points
0.4 assists
4.7 rebounds
2005 NBA champion with the Spurs, starting in 23 playoff games and averaging 7.1 ppg. Two-time NCAA champion with Kentucky. Only a few dozen players have made it 18 seasons.
17.

Gary Grant

12.0 WS in 13 seasons

7.9 points
5.5 assists
2.3 rebounds
15th overall pick in 1988. Played seven straight seasons with the Clippers, starting over 200 games.
18.

Brian Skinner

15.8 WS in 14 seasons

4.7 points
0.5 assists
4.7 rebounds
Legitimately useful in 2002-03 and 2004-05 with the 76ers and Bucks, averaging 12.8 ppg and 9.5 rebounds per game.
19.

DeShawn Stevenson

12.1 WS in 13 seasons

7.2 points
1.6 assists
2.2 rebounds
2011 NBA champion with the Dallas Mavericks, reknown as a "LeBron Stopper." Started all 82 games for three straight seasons from 2005 to 2008. Career .406 shooter.
20.

Earl Barron

-0.6 WS in 8 seasons

4.6 points
0.5 assists
3.5 rebounds
2006 NBA champion as a rookie with the Heat, although he did not appear in the playoffs and only saw time in 8 regular season games.

About this story

The nitty-gritty details of how we arrived at these 20 players.

For each career length, we calculated a mean and standard deviation of WS/season for all the players that had that career length. We then smoothed these two values across different career lengths – this makes the data less noisy for careers lengths that only a couple players matched (the most extreme example: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kobe Bryant are the only two players to play exactly 20 seasons).

Then, for every player, we calculated a z-score by subtracting their actual win shares per season from the mean for their career length, and then dividing by the standard deviation for their career length. A negative z-score means a player did worse than average, positive means better than average. The worst 25 scores in NBA history were below -1.47, and 20 of these plays played for at least three season.

Data from Basketball-Reference.com.

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