What a difference a couple of years makes.

Over the past few years, NBA Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal have been outspokenly critical of Sixers star Joel Embiid, at times labeling him as “soft” and lacking effort on the court.

But Tuesday night, the TNT NBA analysts offered nothing but praise for the Sixers All-Star before, during, and after Philadelphia’s 105-87 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, who were without superstar LeBron James.

» READ MORE: Joel Embiid is the James Harden of big men. Just look at his MVP-level run.

“He is learning what a superstar is… Making guys around you better, that’s when you become a star,” said Barkley. “We got a lot of looters and rioters around here, a lot of guys in the NBA who put up great numbers but they can’t play.”

“There’s only about five great players,” Barkley added, suggesting that Embiid is one.

During a postgame interview, Shaq thanked Embiid for “dominating,” pointing out that the double teams the big man drew opened up the court for easy shots for his teammates. But even basking in the win, Embiid appeared unsatisfied with his own performance, despite finishing with 26 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists.

“As a group here, we thought you played great,” said TNT analyst Kenny Smith. “You made the right basketball plays. You forced people to double team you, and then it leaves guys open. And when they don’t, you punish them inside.”

While Shaq had nothing but praise for Embiid, he had tougher words for Ben Simmons, who has not taken the court this year for the Sixers while waiting for a trade out of Philadelphia. Shaq said he had no respect for Simmons, who hasn’t shown he can “take criticism without being a crybaby.”

“Think about it, you’re missing a whole season because they asked your coach a question, ‘Can they win without you?’ And your coach gave a funny answer. That should tell you that you need to get in the summer time and work on your game,” Shaq said prior to the game, noting how Embiid has responded to criticism to become a better player.

“Great players get criticized, but great players also step up to the criticism and perform,” Shaq added. “So this other guy? I don’t respect him. I would get rid of him.”

Stan Van Gundy thinks Tyrese Maxey deserves more praise

Is Tyrese Maxey the most improved player in the NBA this season? One former head coach thinks so.

During his call of Thursday night’s Sixers-Lakers game, TNT analyst Stan Van Gundy praised the Sixers guard, calling him “greatly improved” compared to last season.

Van Gundy highlighted Maxey’s work developing his three-point shot, which has increased his shooting percentage beyond the arc from 30% a year ago to 41% this season. Maxey is also averaging over 16 points per game, more than double the 8 points a game he averaged last season, the largest point increase in the NBA.

“When you’re going up in every area, then your three-point shooting percentage goes from 30% to 41%, then you double your assists at the same time — that’s great improvement, not just in your skills, but your decision making,” Van Gundy said during the game.

“Maxey has been great,” Embiid said following the game. “He needs to keep doing whatever he’s doing.”

» READ MORE: Tyrese Maxey's father who instilled a relentless work ethic and accountability that fits Philly’s culture

Quick hits

  • There were a lot of celebrities on hand in Philadelphia on Thursday to watch the Sixers’ win over the Lakers, including Hall of Famer and Sixers legend Julius Erving. Note to the scoreboard operators at the Wells Fargo Center: That’s Erving with an “E”, not an “I.”

  • Former Eagles quarterback Jeff Garcia was dragged all over social media Wednesday for an unhinged rant directed at ESPN’s Mina Kimes, who dared to state the obvious — San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t have a great game against the Green Bay Packers. WIP host Glen Macnow had this response: “It amazes me how many of my XY-chromosomed colleagues still can’t deal with a smart woman talking sports. Fellas, let’s not be dinosaurs.”

  • Speaking of Macnow, Conshohocken Brewing Company (which he co-owns) just released a new Hazy IPA called Zooisms donning a familiar face — retired Sixers announcer Marc Zumoff. The new brew is available beginning Friday, and a portion of proceeds will benefit Philadelphia Youth Basketball.

  • In the most-bizarre sports media story of the day, Montana State play-by-play announcer Mark Martello was fired after comparing Portland State’s women’s team to antifa during a broadcast. His response was to offer no apology, draw a false parallel to players who protest social injustice, and claim everything he said was true. “What we really have is a play-by-play broadcaster who failed his fundamental duty,” wrote Oregonian columnist John Canzano. “He didn’t call the game as he saw it or tell the truth. He missed the story right in front of his face because he was too busy making one up.”